The papers: Middle East policy under scrutiny

RAF Chinook helicopter in Cyprus Image copyright AFP

Islamic extremism, problem families, energy bills and dentistry standards are among the wide-ranging topics covered in Sunday's papers.

The Observer leads with criticism, from the Church of England, of David Cameron's foreign policy in the Middle East - describing it as determined by "the loudest media voice at any particular time".

The paper says the "extraordinary" letter to the prime minister is signed by the Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, and written with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

The letter describes UK foreign policy as so muddled and reactive that it is "difficult to discern the strategic intentions" of the government's approach to the region.

As if to answer the criticism, Mr Cameron writes in the Daily Telegraph that the world cannot turn a blind eye to the creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq.

The prime minister says that if these "warped and barbaric" extremists are not dealt with now they will create a "terrorist state" on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Mr Cameron also warns that unless "this exceptionally dangerous" movement is defeated terrorists will target the streets of Britain.

There is further criticism in a comment piece in the Independent on Sunday from former Nato Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen Sir Richard Shirreff.

In a stinging attack, he describes the government's response to events in northern Iraq as farcical, tragic and ultimately dangerous.

He says "this unhappy saga has demonstrated a spineless lack of leadership and the abject absence of any credible strategy".

Message from Iraq

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On its front page, the Sunday People talks of the "kidnap horror of 3,000 women" whom it says Islamic State "fanatics" have rounded up in two weeks. According to Amnesty International, the victims have been taken from villages overrun by Islamist militants in Iraq.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Lt Col David Kilcullen, who has been a counter-insurgency adviser for the US in Iraq, says a counter-offensive against Islamic State (IS), also known as Isis, would be "tough but do-able". The question is not "can we defeat Isis?", he says. Rather it is "but then what?"

Analyst Hassan Hassan, in the Observer, explains the rise of IS, which has been sweeping his homeland of Syria.

"Isis is not a disease," he writes. "It is a symptom - of a political vacuum, a sense of rejection among Sunnis, and an ideological shake-up within Salafism."

Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, has travelled to Iraq and writes a comment piece for the Mail on Sunday.

"The message I bring back from Kurdistan is that this problem is not going away. Iraq is in for a long, hard battle with IS, and it's our problem too. There are an estimated 500 to 700 British citizens fighting with IS," he says.

"A senior Kurdish leader reported to me that one dead jihadi was found with a Liverpool FC membership card in his wallet, another body was recovered with membership card for a gym in Ealing."

In the Sunday Express's opinion, Britain can no longer afford to ignore the threat posed by the "brutal" Islamic State.

The paper says IS is already in our midst, encouraging "young, impressionable British Muslims" to join them.

The Sunday People believes the best hope to defeat IS is to arm the Kurds - "The EU's wishy-washy response to that last week was a disgrace," it says.

Police question

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The Mail on Sunday says the BBC is in crisis after South Yorkshire Police complained about how the broadcaster acted in covering the investigation into pop star Sir Cliff Richard.

In an "astonishing" statement police said they had been reluctant to co-operate with the BBC but believed if they did not the story would be run anyway, says the Mail.

In a Mail comment, it says the BBC cannot be a law unto itself.

"The enormous, unanswerable power of the BBC in modern Britain is comparable to that wielded by the trades unions 40 years ago. It is far too great and ought to be diminished," it says.

However, the Sunday Times says South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Crompton is facing pressure over his handling of the criminal inquiry.

The Daily Telegraph says the inquiry came under mounting criticism after former Attorney General Dominic Grieve called the police's handling of the case "odd" and "very questionable".

Former home secretary David Davis, writing in the Sunday Times, says the "extraordinary decision" of the police to allow filming outside Sir Cliff's home while it was searched demonstrates that there is "something sick at the heart of Britain's police and justice system".

But the Daily Star Sunday disagrees, saying the police must not work in secret: "When allegations are out in the fresh air we have the best chance of learning whether they are true."

The BBC has said it approached South Yorkshire Police with information about the investigation and agreed not to publish a story that might jeopardise a police inquiry.

Sir Cliff's official biographer Steve Turner tells the Sunday Express that he interviewed 350 people for his book - and not one of them mentioned any rumours of sexual abuse.

The Sun on Sunday reports that the veteran singer "shrugged off" the investigation by holding a tennis party at his vineyard on the Algarve in Portugal.

Sir Cliff has said an allegation of an historical sexual offence against a boy under 16 is "completely false".

Root out

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The Sunday Times leads on the revelation that four times more families than previously thought have been classed as problem families.

It says an additional 400,000 families, who are blighting neighbourhoods with their dysfunctional behaviour, will be targeted to turn them around.

In an interview with the paper, the government's adviser on the issue, Louise Casey, says these families are "off the barometer" with the number of problems they have.

In a leader, the Sunday Times says the approach the government is taking is the right one.

"We can neither wish these troubled families away nor wave a magic want to deal with their problems. It takes time, expertise and money," it says.

"But it would have been far better if people had listened to the warnings in this newspaper 25 years ago and acted then to nip the problem of the growing underclass in the bud."

Meanwhile, Britain's rocketing energy bills - said to be rising faster than almost anywhere else in the world - concern the Independent on Sunday.

The paper says research by the House of Commons Library puts in a new light the Department of Energy and Climate Change's claim that the UK domestic electricity bills were "fairly average" compared with the rest of Europe .

An electricity price rise of 23.5% over three years is outstripped only by Ireland with 24.7%.

Finally, the Sunday Express cannot resist the headline "root out the bad dentists".

The paper says dentists are to be rated with official marks to allow patients to easily identify the best and worst practitioners.

The Care Quality Commission, says the Express, will begin its dental inspections by focusing on practices which are a "cause for concern".

"Health is too important to be left to chance," the paper says in an editorial. "We already know which hospitals provide the best and safest care. Soon care homes and GP surgeries will be given ratings and the worst shut down.

"So it is absolutely right that a similar system, designed to drive up standards of care, be considered for dentists."

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